This is an updated version of Create Two, Three, Many Parties of Autonomy!
Our time is one of significant political crisis. The façade of the neoliberal consensus manufactured by the imperialist ruling class has shattered and through the cracks has poured a renewed interest in left politics, both reformist and revolutionary. This renewed interest has helped to reinvigorate the revolutionary left, with a groundswell of independent socialist and communist groups forming across the (so-called) United States. With the rise of this new generation of revolutionary groups comes the return of old questions regarding communist political organization. In particular, the question of the party has again come to the fore.
As revolutionaries in the twenty-first century, we return to the subject of the party-form to ask some fundamental questions: What is the party and why is it necessary? Who belongs to it and who is excluded? What is its role in the revolutionary movement? Should we relate to the party differently today than past movements did? The following essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book Organizing for Autonomy: History, Theory, and Strategy for Collective Liberation (Common Notions 2020), written by members of CounterPower, an affiliate of the Marxist Center. It is an attempt to address “the party question” with a suggestion that the problem of political organization will not be solved by founding a singular mass party. Rather, at our current conjuncture, we see a solution to the problem of communist political organization as being the formation of multiple “parties of autonomy.” Through the historical process of revolutionary struggle, we see the proliferation and networking of these party organizations culminating in the creation of an “area of the party.” It is in relation to the development of this area—of which we hope the Marxist Center will play an integral part—that we see the potential for a successful movement for communism to emerge in the twenty-first century.
From strike committees to workers’ councils, tenant unions to neighborhood assemblies, the disparate forms of organized autonomy that arise during a protracted revolutionary struggle will not automatically fuse with communist politics to create a cohesive system of counterpower. Nor will a majority of the proletarian and popular social groups automatically unite with the communist movement. The imperialist world-system exerts tremendous pressure against the organic emergence of a communist worldview on a mass scale. Reformism, authoritarianism, bureaucratism, and social chauvinism within the movement can divert grassroots struggles away from a revolutionary path. What organizational form can facilitate the political development of the mass movement in a communist direction? What form can foster communication, cooperation, and coordination across multiple fronts of struggle and movement sectors? We believe the answer is found in the construction of an independent communist political organization, or party of autonomy.
This is not a call for a party of the bourgeois type. Social revolutions are made by the autonomous initiative of a revolutionary people, not by counting votes or coup d’état. We reject parties that aim to take control of the existing state machinery.1 Rosa Luxemburg identified a revolutionary party of autonomy as the “most conscious, purposeful part of the proletariat, which points the entire broad mass of the working class toward its historical tasks at every step,” always linking its grassroots political work to the ultimate goal of communism.2 It is a connective party, establishing linkages between different fronts of struggle through social investigations and organizational networks, connecting local and national concerns with an analysis of the world situation and the tasks of the world revolution.3 Such a party strengthens the organized autonomy of the proletarian and popular social groups at the base, recognizing that the people come to act as a collective revolutionary subject only through the self-management of the revolutionary struggle itself. This fighting revolutionary party is nothing less than a partisan war machine: an instrument for laying siege to imperialism.4
A party of autonomy does not stand outside or above the revolutionary process. Rather, such a party is internal to this process, as an integral and complementary part of an emerging system of counterpower. Thus, a party of autonomy is a dialectical product of, and active factor in, the development of revolutionary consciousness, self-organization, and self-activity among the proletarian and popular social groups.5 A party is simply the self-organization of revolutionaries. As Agustín Guillamón has emphasized, multiple revolutionary organizations, groups, and tendencies will emerge in a revolutionary situation. In their totality, these groups constitute the historical party of communism, which is locked in antagonistic struggle against the historical party of imperialism (which is also constituted by multiple organizations, groups, and tendencies).6 The anarchist Errico Malatesta described the historical party of communism as including “all who are on the same side … [who] struggle for the same ends against common adversaries and enemies. But this does not mean it is possible—or even desirable—for all of us to be gathered into one specific association.”7 Given diverse political situations and the prevailing fragmentation of proletarian and popular social groups, a high degree of organizational flexibility is required. We believe room must be made not only for multiple factions and caucuses within a singular party of autonomy, but also for multiple parties within the broader communist movement: “Let a hundred flowers blossom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.”8
The formation and development of a party of autonomy is a process that embodies both micropolitical and macropolitical dimensions.9 The ability to mediate between the two has been a distinguishing feature of successful revolutionary parties. In the Russian Revolution of 1917, clusters of Bolshevik party activists concentrated in workplaces recognized that the grassroots councils (soviets) emerging from the struggles of workers embodied the nuclei of an alternative social system.10 Thus, the party’s organization at the point of production enabled revolutionaries to link workplace struggles against exploitation with the struggle against imperialism and to link the emergent councils with the insurrectionary struggle to establish a system of territorial counterpower.11
A party of autonomy fuses with organs of counterpower and people’s defense organizations. It organizes tactical and strategic united fronts, with the aim of articulating a system of counterpower that can contend with the authoritarian state for territorial control. It wages struggle on the terrain of everyday life—the workplace, neighborhood, school, prison, or barracks—and moves within the flow of emergent networks, structures, and processes. This requires coordination, discipline, planning, and unity in action.12 At all scales of operation, a party of autonomy presents the most advanced demands and deploys its most capable militants to the front lines of the revolutionary struggle and within emergent organs of counterpower.13
A party is a part of an emergent system of counterpower. Far from seeking to dominate the autonomous liberation struggles of the proletarian and popular social groups, “the party must be built in the fire of struggles, step by step, under the control of the mass political movement.”14 Such a party aims to root itself among the oppressed masses, participate in their struggles, “and thus organize while being organized by the masses.”15 If the social revolution is indeed “a process of assemblage” that links multiple fronts of struggle into a united front, then the party functions as the key instrument of linkage.16
Articulation and Fusion: The Functions of a Party Organization
What are the functions of a party of autonomy? Revolutionary parties operate as articulators of a communist praxis. Concretely, such organizations help to articulate: (1) the communist content implicit in grassroots social struggles via militant social investigation that combines a practice of inquiry with relentless agitation, education, and organization; and (2) an area of autonomy composed of heterogeneous—and at times contradictory—social forces, reaching an organizational apex first with the formation of a system of counterpower, and later with the establishment of a territorial commune. As Salar Mohandesi puts it, the work of articulation performed by a party of autonomy is twofold: “On the one hand, to articulate is to communicate, formulate, or express a given content by moving it to a different register. On the other hand, to articulate is to join separate elements together, and the articulator, in this sense, can be understood as the joint itself.”17 A few historical examples may serve to elucidate the role and function of a party of autonomy as an articulator of a communist praxis.
Throughout the Great Depression, the Alabama Communist Party fused Marxist theory with local cultures, articulating the communist content implicit in Southern Black resistance to racial oppression and class exploitation and building an area of autonomy consisting of Black rural sharecroppers, industrial workers, the unemployed, women, poor whites, and radical youth. It achieved this through organizations such as the Trade Union Unity League, Sharecroppers’ Union, National Committee of Unemployed Councils, Young Communist League, and Alabama Farmers’ Relief Fund. In addition to campaigns for Black self-determination, antiracist class unity, unemployment and underemployment relief, eviction and foreclosure defense, rank-and-file unionism, wage increases, public education, and voter rights, the local units of the Communist Party published Southern Worker, a regional communist newspaper with a focus on Black liberation and proletarian class struggle. In the words of Robin D.G. Kelley:
The Party offered more than a vehicle for social contestation; it offered a framework for understanding the roots of poverty and racism, linked local struggles to world politics, challenged not only the hegemonic ideology of white supremacy but the petite bourgeois racial politics of the Black middle class, and created an atmosphere in which ordinary people could analyze, discuss, and criticize the society in which they lived.18
Another historical example is the Iberian Anarchist Federation (Federación Anarquista Ibérica, or FAI).19 The FAI formed in 1927 with the aim of establishing a symbiotic relationship with the National Confederation of Labor (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo, or CNT). It worked to unite anarcho-communist forces throughout the Iberian peninsula and diaspora in order to struggle against reactionary currents in the CNT, articulate the communist content implicit in class struggle, and accelerate the development of a revolutionary situation.20 All FAI cadre were expected to agree with anarcho-communist principles and join a local CNT union.21 Within those unions, FAI cadre established a trabazón or “organic link” between the two organizations, effectively fusing anarcho-communist vision (embodied in the FAI) with the anarcho-syndicalist strategy of rank-and-file class struggle unionism (embodied in the CNT).22 Joint councils operated as a hub or point of convergence for both the CNT rank-and-file and FAI cadre.23 This trabazón did not aim to subordinate the CNT to the FAI. It was a pedagogical relationship, whereby the FAI sought to unleash the emancipatory currents within the CNT and to push back against conservative elements within the workers’ movement. The aim was to cultivate a symbiotic interdependency within a broader system of counterpower, in which each organization retained a relative degree of autonomy in pursuit of a common objective: social revolution for the establishment of libertarian communism on a world scale.
The FAI created a revolutionary party of autonomy of a specifically anarchist character. The radical achievements of the proletariat and peasantry in Spain during this period are partially attributable to the immense effort and sacrifice of FAI cadres to rebuild the CNT in the face of reformism and state repression and to advance a specifically anarcho-communist vision. FAI cadres within the CNT ceaselessly worked to initiate an insurrectionary rupture with the old society, emphasizing that the counter-hegemonic communal governance of the working class could only be established via grassroots participatory democracy in federations of unions,assemblies, committees, councils, and collectives. However, while the FAI embodied a party of autonomy in its historical functioning, its lack of political cohesion around a sufficiently developed platform and program, combined with a propensity to engage in reckless armed actions, limited its effectiveness as an articulator of communist content, especially as the Spanish proletariat and peasantry stepped onto the battlefield of civil war.
In Chile, the Revolutionary Left Movement (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria, or MIR) exemplified a party of autonomy, operating as a catalyst in the construction of autonomous popular power,which included grassroots fighting organizations, alternative institutions, defense groups, united fronts, and a nuanced relationship with electoral politics. A diverse group of militants founded MIR in 1965 at the University of Concepción. By 1973, the MIR would have more than ten thousand members engaged in organizing students, staff, and faculty on university campuses, the urban poor in shantytowns, peasants in the countryside, rank-and-file industrial workers in the unions, and soldiers in the armed forces. During the presidency of Salvador Allende, the MIR radicalized the grassroots base of the Popular Unity coalition (Unidad Popular, or UP), and subsequently led the antifascist resistance against the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. In their grassroots political work, MIR cadre emphasized popular self-organization through expropriations (tomas), the formation of communal workers’ councils, and the construction of a revolutionary people’s army.
The MIR nucleus emerged from the Left University Movement (Movimiento Universitario de Izquierda, or MUI), which was based on popular assemblies. Like their New Left contemporaries in other countries, MUI demanded that the university be opened to all and democratically governed by a community of students, staff, and faculty.24 MUI revolutionaries would go on to form the core leadership of the MIR, which combined participatory democracy in popular assemblies and communal councils with militant direct action via occupations and expropriations. The MIR later replicated the assembly-based model initially developed by the MUI, extending it beyond the city of Concepción to Chile as a whole, encompassing a multitude of grassroots social struggles.
One of the MIR’s most important projects was Campamento Lenin, an encampment in Concepción that served as a home for 3,000 pobladores [houseless urban poor]. While many organizations fought for housing justice, the MIR was unique in emphasizing direct action and the prefiguration of communism. According to historian Marian Schlotterbeck, the MIR “promoted direct actions in the form of tomas de terrenos urbanos, literally taking unoccupied urban lands, as a means to create territorial expressions of popular power.”25 Following expropriation and occupation, the MIR helped create communal forms of governance based on autonomous popular assemblies, thereby developing a minor communist politics understood “as participation, as liberation, and as a means to equality.”26 Through Campamento Lenin, the MIR articulated communist politics and a counter-hegemonic alliance. It organized the mass expropriation of land for housing, bringing together pobladores, students, labor unions, and communist political organizations into a solidarity committee, which reflected MIR strategy to forge a revolutionary people by uniting multiple sectors of struggle.27 The origins of Campamento Lenin can be traced to the MIR’s militant social investigations. Local miristas, primarily students, surveyed the everyday problems faced by pobladores in the shantytowns in order to build a network of contacts and identify prospective plots of land for expropriation. Upon the completion of an initial survey, miristas would synthesize the information collected to formulate a programmatic orientation for popular mobilization.28
From its initial base among students in the MUI to organizing pobladores and Campamento Lenin, the MIR laid the groundwork to expand its infrastructure. It built organs of counterpower among industrial workers in the coal mining and textile industries through the Revolutionary Workers Front (Frente de Trabajadores Revolucionarios, or FTR), and among rural workers through the Revolutionary Peasant Movement (Movimiento Campesino Revolucionario, or MCR). Its ultimate aim was to link these diverse fronts of struggle as system of counterpower, culminating with the formation of a Popular Assembly to express the will of an emergent revolutionary people.29
The MIR took cadre development extremely seriously. According to mirista Carlos Robles, “It wasn’t just show up and do some activity—like pass out pamphlets or sell El Rebelde—no, there was a space for reflection. A space for everything because it wasn’t just politics that we had, there was also personal growth (formación humana)—this is important—the development of the individual as such.”30 The base organizations of the MIR advanced a communist praxis that prioritized full human development and the politicization of everyday life, pushing the boundaries of what constituted the political.31 The MIR’s holistic praxis of liberation enabled them to overcome class differences internally, despite the organization’s initial base among students and faculty at a single university: “The investment the MIR made in forming militants was also an investment in forming people—instilling a sense that each voice mattered and each person had something to contribute to the revolutionary struggle in Chile.”32 It was this dialogic pedagogy practiced by MIR base organizations that enabled them to win the trust of the urban and rural poor, peasants, and industrial workers who went on to join the MIR and make it their own.
A Cadre Party
These case studies provide inspiring examples of the concrete operations of a party of autonomy. With minimal personnel and resources, initially concentrated in limited geographic areas and among particular sectors of the proletarian and popular social groups, these revolutionary parties patiently organized an area of autonomy. Informed by a revolutionary vision of communism and a strategy of protracted struggle, they inspired masses of people to fight for radical change. In all of the above examples, the conscious recruitment, development, and coordination of cadre made victories possible. The word cadre is of French origin, meaning “framework.” Cadreare“active worker-organizers,” or “a multilayered stratum of activists committed to the movement’s continuity through the ups and downs of its daily routine.”33
Parties of autonomy can be understood as cadre organizations, assembling frameworks that inform the everyday praxis of communist partisans operating in a variety of contexts. Such a framework should include: (1) a platform articulating an analysis of the imperialist world-system from the standpoint of the proletarian and popular social groups, a vision of a communist alternative, and a strategy of protracted revolutionary struggle; (2) a program that emerges from militant social investigations and which articulates the concrete tasks of cadre in symbiotic relationship with emerging grassroots social struggles; and (3) an organizational culture and style of doing politics that is collective, creative, humble, patient, militant, and open to refinement and transformation. Reflecting upon the legacy of the New Communist Movement of the 1970s and ‘80s in North America, movement veteran Max Elbaum emphasizes the importance of cadre organization:
Revolutionary spirit, hard work, personal sacrifice, and the willingness to subordinate individual interests to the political tasks at hand are all crucial qualities for a successful radical movement. So too is the commitment to sink roots among the exploited and oppressed and to struggle within the movement over inequalities of class, race, and gender. And—whether or not they are now in fashion—so are organizations capable of functioning on the basis of well-worked out strategies, unity in action, and a measure of collective discipline.34
Cadre organize to help others develop their own potential.35 However, what distinguishes a party of autonomy’s cadre from other types of organizers is that they have a common political platform and program to orient their work and an organizational center to which they are accountable.36 Specifically, a party of autonomy should focus on producing and circulating the knowledge and skills needed to build organized autonomy, including organs of counterpower, people’s defense organizations, and united fronts. Cadre build conscious forms of collective leadership, which for Ella Baker meant “leadership that helped people to help themselves and allowed ordinary people to feel that they could determine their own future.”37 The forms of organized autonomy that allow masses of people to exercise self-management, self-government, and self-determination do not emerge spontaneously. Cadre intentionally exercise collective leadership to assist their initial formation and guide their development towards revolutionary objectives in symbiotic relation with the masses.38
The basic organizational unit of a party of autonomy at the level of a municipality or neighborhood could be the local branch, which functions as a hub for the organization’s activities. The local branch could convene meetings of members on a regular basis, collect dues, organize political education workshops and technical trainings, and conduct militant social investigations to inform the initial selection of sites of struggle where the party organization focuses its time, energies, and resources. At the territorial level, a party could convene organizational congresses consisting of delegates from each local branch, which could in turn elect a coordinating committee to maintain the day-to-day operations of the party, encompassing communications, publications, finances, and the intentional cultivation of comradely relations and alliances with other revolutionary organizations and sectors of the movement.
As a local branch grows in size and capacity, it could create clusters, or smaller fractions of comrades formed on the basis of common affinities and concentration in a common front of struggle. Each cluster could function as an intimate space for political education, mutual aid, and the forging of a shared political praxis. This is a cellular organization, as advocated by Ella Baker, who “envisioned small groups of people working together but also retaining contact in some form with other such groups, so that coordinated action would be possible whenever large numbers really were necessary.”39 The political cohesion and strategic unity of these forces can enable effective operational and tactical convergence or dispersion, in accordance with the situation encountered. However, the communicative burden for such organizational forms is high, as each cluster must have the capacity not only to send and receive information, but to process it quickly.
As a member of the Alabama Communist Party from Birmingham once remarked: “There ain’t one of us here who was born a communist; we learned it and it ain’t easy to learn.”40 A party of autonomy functions simultaneously as a school, workshop, and laboratory for learning, testing, and refining the craft of revolutionary organizing. A party organization is thus an instrument for aggregating, collectivizing, and circulating knowledge co-produced through past and present cycles of struggle in order to strengthen the possibilities for future victories. It is an organization of revolutionaries by trade and,as with any trade, the grassroots political work conducted by party cadre requires time, patience, commitment, openness, and reflexivity.41
The party organization should develop political education programs to foster collective leadership. It cannot effectively agitate, educate, and organize for communism if it lacks a sufficient base of trained cadre who are transformed with time and experience into battle-hardened veterans of protracted revolutionary struggle. During the initial process of formation, a party organization will need to focus on internal programs. Such internal programs could include: (1) political education to strengthen the knowledge, skills, and capacities of individual cadre; (2) the production of agitational and educational materials (such as literature, podcasts, films, and posters) to popularize the politics of the organization and to hone the skills of cadre in disseminating these materials; (3) recruitment, since future projects depend upon a sizable and growing core of cadre to enable an effective division of tasks, a rotation of responsibilities, and a capacity for increasingly complex projects. To ensure that the party organization maintains a responsive and symbiotic relationship with the masses, each project should be subject to a critical assessment of its effectiveness. The combination of organizational discipline, unity around a common political platform and program, and autonomy of local branches and clusters, along with the development of an organizational culture and style of work synchronized with local conditions and customs, makes for an organization with a greater capacity to organize an area of autonomy, build a system of counterpower, resist counter-revolutionary repression, and prefigure the social relations of communism.
The Area of the Party
In order to consolidate the communist movement, we are faced with the question of unity, or the task of forging bonds of solidarity among multiple revolutionary parties, grounded in mutual respect for the independence of each organization and a recognition that no one organization or tendency can or will have all the answers. As Jose Carlos Mariátegui emphasized, “the existence of defined and precise tendencies and groups is not an evil. On the contrary, it is the sign of an advanced period of the revolutionary process. What matters is that these groups and tendencies know how to understand themselves when facing the concrete reality of the day.”42 The task is to unify the communist movement on the basis of “contingent, concrete, and practical action.”43
To achieve this unity in diversity—to create a “neighborhood of a thousand flags”44—we propose building a network of interorganizational communication, cooperation, and coordination among multiple revolutionary parties. We call this the area of the party, or “a party of a networked type.”45 Instead of sects competing with each other for dominance, each organization could operate as a complementary part of a more complex whole. Within this organizational ecology, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, while the associated parties are defined by their practical initiatives.46 The crucial aspect is that the relative autonomy of each affiliate organization is respected and leadership functions are distributed throughout the network, where “each member can play, from time to time, a hegemonic role,” with room for divergent perspectives on certain issues within an overall context of unity in action.47 Whether this area of the party ultimately coalesces into a unitary party organization we leave open to contingency.
The area of the party, in our conception, is segmentary, polycentric, and networked.48 It is segmentary because it is composed of multiple party organizations or “segments,” each with their own political platform, program, and style of work. This segmentary character enables the area of the party to permeate different sectors of society and fronts of struggle simultaneously, reflecting the various standpoints and forms of life articulated by the proletarian and popular social groups.49 With multiple party organizations, a division of labor can be established with varying degrees of specialization at certain nodes and with fail-safe measures distributed throughout the network. A measure of redundancy, duplication, and overlap contributes to overall system reliability, while the capacity to propose “many different solutions to a problem [is] the institutional equivalent to biodiversity in the ecosystem.”50 Within this pluralist organizational ecology, a culture of emulation among the affiliated organizations can amplify and accelerate dynamics of experimentation, adaptive learning, and militancy. Instead of a singular and undifferentiated political line for all times and places, different strategic, operational, and tactical approaches can be tested in a range of situations, with area-wide learning facilitated through an integrated information and communications infrastructure.
The area of the party is polycentric because it does not consist of a single central leadership, instead opting for collective leadership distributed at various scales through multiple leadership centers.51 Horizontality and verticality, centralism and decentralism, are not absolute principles, but contingent possibilities whose effective applications rest upon acknowledging the dialectical relation between these polarities along with analyses of concrete situations.52 We must determine “what balances to strike between openness and closure, dispersion and unity, strategic action and process, and so forth.”53 Formal leadership positions should be rotated and held directly accountable to the rank-and-file membership of the affiliated organizations through regular area-wide assemblies. The area of the party reintroduces a dialectical method of analysis into the science of revolutionary organization, recognizing both the situational and strategic dimensions of leadership. Against “leaderless” resistance, we posit a “leaderful” revolutionary movement.54
Finally, the area of the party is networked, which enables the associated parties “to exchange information and ideas and to coordinate participation in joint action.”55 As the imperialist world-system has already adopted a networked approach to counter-revolution through forms of inter-agency cooperation, revolutionaries would be wise to recognize that “it takes a network to fight a network.”56 This integrated network could be maintained through traveling educators, agitators, and organizers; overlapping membership across affiliate party organizations; integrated information and communications infrastructure; joint initiatives, projects, and campaigns; and recognition of a common struggle, a common enemy, and a common objective, even if the particularities of each affiliate party’s analysis, vision, and strategy diverge on specific points. At the level of a neighborhood or municipality, the area of the party could emerge through joint councils or “fusion centers” to coordinate the activities of various party branches and collectives concentrated in a common zone. Indeed, the construction of this integrated network could itself function as the scaffolding for articulating a system of counterpower from within the area of autonomy, constituting the institutional basis of a communal social system.
A segmentary, polycentric, and networked area of the party may prove to be resilient in the face of counter-revolutionary repression and adaptive in the face of a rapidly changing terrain of struggle. There are several potential sources of this resiliency. As Luther P. Gerlach argues, “To the extent that local groups are autonomous and self-sufficient, some are likely to survive the destruction of others. This is also true of leaders; some will survive and even become more active and radical when others are removed, retired, or co-opted.”57 Furthermore, distributing and rotating leadership functions throughout the area of the party can help mitigate the consequences of burnout, as another group can pick up the banner of revolution and carry it forward into battle.
The area of the party has several historical precedents. During the Salvadoran Revolution and Civil War (1979–1992), there emerged a united front of revolutionary anti-imperialist forces, encompassing an alliance of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional, or FMLN) and Revolutionary Democratic Front (Frente Democrático Revolucionario, or FDR), which fought together under the banner of the “FMLN-FDR.”58 While the FDR united a network of mass organizations, such as labor unions, peasant associations, barrio committees, and student groups, the FMLN united five revolutionary parties to coordinate a common politico-military struggle. The FMLN thus constituted an area of the party embedded within a broader area of autonomy encompassing the liberated zones within the guerrilla territories, the base organizations affiliated with the FDR, and the more diffuse organizations and militants outside FMLN-FDR networks. What made the FMLN unique was that it established a mechanism of communication, coordination, and cooperation among the various politico-military organizations—El Salvador’s area of the party—in a common revolutionary struggle with a common program. The five parties affiliated to the FMLN each maintained their own organizational autonomy, while five commanders, one representing each party, collectively made decisions for the FMLN as a whole.59 As one FMLN guerrilla put it: “There’s a real danger of each group going its own way, but it’s also difficult to decree unity. We have genuine differences of approach, and the answer is not for every organization to renounce its beliefs in the name of unity. That smells of Stalinism to me.”60
The Guatemalan Revolution and Civil War (1960–1996) displayed many features similar to those in El Salvador. After years of sectarianism, rivalry, non-cooperation, and “zonalization” (where each revolutionary organization controlled a territory that was not to be encroached upon by others), four revolutionary parties came together under the umbrella of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca, or URNG) in January 1982. During the course of the revolutionary struggle, leadership functions within the URNG were rotated among affiliate parties. The URNG stated that it was “fighting for space, not for itself as a political party, but for the formulation of alternative, popularly based solutions to the country’s crises.”61 The URNG did not see itself as the future holder of state power, but as a revolutionary catalyst working to deepen, defend, and expand the broader mass movement.62 What emerged from the experience of the URNG by the end of the 1980s was a clear distinction between the area of the party (embodied in the URNG and its affiliate party organizations) and the area of autonomy (embodied in the popular organizations of the mass movement). The ultimate aim was to achieve “a popular/revolutionary convergence,” or the articulation of a system of counterpower from among these disparate elements:
The formulations [of the URNG] concerning alliances reflected new thinking about the relationship of revolutionary forces to the popular movement as the latter reemerged. On the one hand, all parties had learned the painful lessons of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when some popular organizations were more exposed to repression because of their open identification with the guerrilla movement. On the other hand, it was also important to overcome the disarticulation that existed in the 1980s between the revolutionary left and (non-clandestine) popular movements. The challenge was to define a new relationship, taking into account a necessary degree of autonomy of the popular organizations.63
Judging from the accumulated historical experience of revolutionary struggles against imperialism, it appears unlikely that a monolithic mass party will prove useful (or even possible) for today’s communist movement. The forging of a revolutionary movement for communism will likely result from the converging efforts of multiple revolutionary parties (the area of the party) with a more expansive network of autonomous mass organizations and defense groups (the area of autonomy). Indeed, in our conjuncture we already see the emergence of a variety of revolutionary organizations involved in building autonomous mass organizations, from the Red Nation to the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, Symbiosis to the Marxist Center. As communist partisans, it is our role to facilitate the growth of this emergent area of the party, foster comradely communication and cooperation among all revolutionary organizations, and commit ourselves to seeing the protracted revolutionary struggle for liberation through to victory.
1 Peter Nettl, “The German Social Democratic Party 1890–1914 as a Political Model,” Past and Present, no. 30 (1965): 67.
2 Rosa Luxemburg, “What Does the Spartacus League Want?,” in Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson eds., The Rosa Luxemburg Reader, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004), 356.
3 Mimmo Porcaro, “A Number of Possible Developments of the Idea of Connective Party,” Transform! (2011), https://www.transform-network.net/uploads/tx_news/Porcaro_Sviluppi_final.pdf/; Porcaro, “Occupy Lenin,” Socialist Register 2013: The Question of Strategy 49, (2013).
4 J. Moufawad-Paul, “The Austerity Apparatus: Some Preliminary Notes,” Arsenal: Theoretical Journal of the PCR-RCP, no. 9 (September 2017): 196.
5 Agustín Guillamón, “The Theorization of Historical Experiences,” Libcom, (November 28, 2013), https://libcom.org/history/theorization-historical-experiences-agustín-guillamón/.
7 Errico Malatesta, “A Project of Anarchist Organization (1927),” Marxists Internet Archive, https://marxists.architexturez.net/archive/malatesta/1927/10/project.htm/.
8 Mao Zedong, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People (1957),” Marxists Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-5/mswv5_58.htm/.
9 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 105–106.
10 Donny Gluckstein, “The Missing Party (1984),” Marxists Internet Archive, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/gluckstein/1984/xx/missing.html/.
11 Charles Bettelheim, Class Struggles in the USSR, First Period: 1917–1923 (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976), 73.
12 Murray Bookchin, Post-Scarcity Anarchism (Oakland: AK Press, 2004),139.
13 Ibid, 140.
14 l’Union des Communistes de France marxiste-léniniste (UCFML), “l’UCFML: une organisation révolutionnaire marxiste-léniniste-maoïste,” Le Marxiste-Léniniste: Journal Central de l’UCFML, no. 18/19 (July-August 1977): 4.
15 J. Moufawad-Paul, Continuity and Rupture: Philosophy in the Maoist Terrain (Winchester, UK: Zero Books, 2016), 198.
16 Robert Biel, The Entropy of Capitalism (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013), 328.
17 Salar Mohandesi, “All Tomorrow’s Parties: A Reply to Critics,” Viewpoint, (May 23, 2012), https://www.viewpointmag.com/2012/05/23/all-tomorrows-parties-a-reply-to-critics/.
18 Robin D.G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), 93.
19 Roberto Bordiga, “Per la storia degli anarchici spagnoli,” Primo Maggio, no. 6 (1976): 83.
20 Stuart Christie, We, the Anarchists! A Study of the Iberian Anarchist Federation (FAI), 1927-1937 (Oakland: AK Press, 2008), 39.
21 Murray Bookchin, The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years 1868-1936 (Oakland: AK Press, 1998), 198.
22 Jason Garner, Goals and Means: Anarchism, Syndicalism, and Internationalism in the Origins of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Oakland: AK Press, 2016), 214.
23 Ibid, 222.
24 Marian E. Schlotterbeck, “Everyday Revolutions: Grassroots Movements, the Revolutionary Left (MIR), and the Making of Socialism in Concepción, Chile, 1964-1973,” PhD diss., Yale University (2013), 19.
25 Ibid, 71.
26 Ibid, 67.
27 Ibid, 83.
28 Ibid, 73.
29 Ibid, 42.
30 Ibid, 143.
31 Ibid, 143.
32 Ibid, 147.
33 Wobblyist Writing Group, “Wobblyism: Revolutionary Unionsim for Today,” Libcom, (December 11, 2013), http://libcom.org/library/wobblyism-revolutionary-unionism-today; Wright, Storming Heaven, 75.
34 Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao, and Che (London: Verso, 2006), 180.
35 Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 84.
36 Eric Mann, Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011), 71.
37 Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 167.
38 Murray Bookchin, The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy (London: Verso, 2015),181.
39 Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom, 369.
40 Kelley, Hammer and Hoe, 93.
41 Lars T. Lih, Lenin Rediscovered: ‘What is to be Done?’ in Context (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2008), 459.
42 José Carlos Mariátegui, “The United Front,” Cosmonaut, (November 23, 2019), https://cosmonaut.blog/2019/11/23/the-united-front-by-jose-carlos-mariategui/.
44 Manju Rajendran, “Revolutionary Work in Our Time: Can’t Keep Quiet, This Time Gon’ Be More Than a Riot,” Left Turn, (June 1, 2010), http://www.leftturn.org/revolutionary-work-our-time-gonna-be-more-riot/.
45 Nick Dyer-Witheford and Svitlana Matviyenko, Cyberwar and Revolution: Digital Subterfuge in Global Capitalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019), 148.
46 Rodrigo Nunes, “Notes Toward a Rethinking of the Militant,” in Shannon Brincat ed., Communism in the 21st Century, Volume 3: The Future of Communism: Social Movements, Economic Crises, and the Re-imagination of Communism (Santa Barbara, California: Praeger, 2014), 177.
47 Porcaro, “A Number of Possible Developments of the Idea of Connective Party.”
48 Luther P. Gerlach, “The Structure of Social Movements: Environmental Activism and its Opponents,” in John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt eds., Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2001).
49 Ibid, 293.
50 Biel, The Entropy of Capitalism, 340.
51 Gerlach, “The Structure of Social Movements,” 294.
52 Torkil Lauesen, The Global Perspective: Reflections on Imperialism and Resistance (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2018), 446–447.
53 Rodrigo Nunes, Organisation of the Organisationless: Collective Action After Networks (Post-Media Lab and Mute Books, 2014), 13.
54 Ibid, 33.
55 Gerlach, “The Structure of Social Movements,” 295.
56 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 58. See also David Ronfeldt et al. The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1998).
57 Gerlach, “The Structure of Social Movements,” 303.
58 Yvon Grenier, “Understanding the FMLN: A Glossary of Five Words,” Conflict Quarterly 11, no. 2, (Spring 1991), 52.
59 Cynthia McClintock, Revolutionary Movements in Latin America (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 1998), 48.
60 Ibid, 56.
61 Susanna Jonas, The Battle for Guatemala: Rebels, Death Squads, and U.S. Power (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991), 237.
62 Ibid, 192.
63 Ibid, 192.